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Young men and young women of the army of Jesus Christ, I want to begin by telling you a story. It is about a young man who, the day after his birthday in 1971, went as required by law to register for the draft. That young man was me. I did not mind registering so much. But I remem­ber vividly sometime later listening to the radio at my uncle’s shop where I worked for news of how high the numbers went. You see, I was in the last year of the lottery system. Every young man received a number from 1- 365. Mine was 125. Would the government go that high in choosing how many men they needed for the army, or would they not, so I asked myself. As it turned out, they only went as high as about 18 if I remember correctly. You can imagine how relieved I was that I did not have to go into the army. Oh, if I was chosen, I would have gone. But I really did not want to. Actually, I was afraid to. To be completely honest I was terrified at the thought. It was the latter part of the war in Viet­nam, a war that we did not win. It was a terrible war where tens of thousands of this country’s troops, some from our own churches, perhaps some of your relatives, lost their lives in the forests and rice paddies of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. I never became a soldier of the United States of America.

But I am a soldier. Not a soldier in the army of this country, but a soldier in the army of a better. I am a soldier in the army of the Kingdom of heaven, and Jesus Christ is my commanding officer. He chose me to be that. He enlisted me to be that. I did not enlist. He enlisted me. He made me willing to be His soldier, and my prayer is daily that I may be a good one and live to serve Him.

My speech this morning is about being a good soldier of Jesus Christ. The text that you have chosen for your convention theme speaks of that. “Thou therefore endure hardness, as a soldier of Jesus Christ.” II Timothy 2:3

I. What It Means To Be That

What makes a soldier, a soldier? I think it best to begin with that question, and having answered that, address the reality of being a good soldier of Jesus Christ.

A soldier is a whole lot more than a person with a uniform and a gun in his hand. To be sure, a soldier wears a uniform, and to him is given a weapon. But a soldier is more than that. A soldier is one who knows what that uniform represents, and is trained in the use of weapons. He goes to training, to boot camp. There he is taught what it means to be a soldier. He is taught how to be a soldier. He is taught disci­pline, to obey orders. His body and mind are pre­pared, honed to battle readiness, so that at a moment’s notice, should the need arise, he might be ready to go to war.

Further, a soldier, a good soldier, possesses these characteristics: courage first of all. What is courage? It is not as some would have it, the absence of all fear. A soldier, a good one, has fear. Rather, courage is bravery that has one’s fear in control, so that a soldier’s fear does not give way to terror. A good soldier, a courageous soldier, is one who in spite of fear goes forth to battle and faces the enemy.

Secondly, a soldier is one who is a coura­geous patriot. He is a person with a zeal for the cause which he serves, and for which he is fight­ing. If one is a soldier in the army of the United States of America, he must possess a zeal for the cause for which this country is fighting. There is no room in the Armed Forces for those who have no zeal. The Army without it will surely lose.

Thirdly, a soldier is one who trusts. He trusts his fellow soldiers to back him up on the battle field and trenches. He trusts his superior officers to have a sound battle strategy. He trusts that his country will support him with supplies, ammunition, enthusiasm, and with prayers. He trusts that the weapons he uses, and in which he has been trained, will perform. If he has not that, he cannot be a soldier.

Now let us address the reality. How many of you have thought of yourselves as soldiers, sol­diers of Jesus Christ? How many of you are sol­diers of Jesus Christ? A Christian is that, you see. If you are a Christian, you are a soldier. Paul was a soldier. Paul tells Timothy he is a sol­dier. But it is not just apostles such as Paul, or ministers such as Timothy or such as myself who are soldiers. Every Christian is a soldier. And Jesus Christ is your commanding officer. He is the Captain, the General of the army of God, the army of the kingdom of heaven. Now let me ask you another question, how many of you are good soldiers of Jesus Christ? A good soldier you must be!

What makes you a good soldier? First of all, you wear a uniform, and wear it with honor. What is your uniform? The Bible calls it robes, robes of righteousness, robes of holiness. Those robes are our uniform. A good soldier of Jesus Christ wears them. They distinguish him from the soldiers of Satan who are dressed in the filthy rags of sin. He wears them with pride, con­sidering it an honor to wear them.

A good soldier is one, in the second place, who both has a weapon and knows how to use it. What are your weapons? They are not earthly swords or spears, bows or arrows. They are not Colt 45’s or machine guns or M 16’s. They are spiritual weapons. Paul speaks of such in Eph­esians 6 where he enumerates the armor of God. He refers to the sword of the Spirit as being the Word of God. That is our weapon! The Word of God! In that weapon we must be trained. We go to boot camp, if you will, where we learn not only the use of that weapon, but what it means to obey orders, and where our heart and soul are honed to battle-readiness. That boot camp is our homes and the extension of our homes, the Christian school. It is our church and the instruction we receive through the preaching of the Word and catechism. These all teach you how to be good soldiers and how to use that weapon that a good soldier of Jesus Christ has. Learn that training well!

And now we go to characteristics. Courage! A good soldier of Jesus Christ is courageous. No, that doesn’t mean you have no fear. I have fear. But by the grace of God I am not terrified. I have my fear in control (though it is a daily struggle). It is grace and faith that does that. It is prayer that helps me in my fears. It will help you. It is sufficient for every soldier of Jesus Christ. With your fears go to Jesus Christ. He is there for you. Go also to those whom Christ has given you, your parents and pastors, as well as others.

Patriotism and zeal! A good soldier of Jesus Christ is patriotic, filled with a zeal for the cause of Christ. This zeal is rooted in love, love for Christ, love for your country – heaven, love for your citizenship in that country, and the fact that Christ has called you to serve. Do you pos­sess that love, that zeal? There is no room in the army of Christ for those who do not. There is only room for zealous patriots.

II. The Warfare That Must Be Fought

There is a war that must be fought. It is not against the armies of North Vietnam or Iraq or any other earthly foe. It is against sin and Satan. It is a war that goes on every day and every minute of every day. Sin and Satan are real. They exist and never cease to assault us. Some­times they are bold and confront us with a frontal attack. They bombard us with false doc­trines and worldly pleasures to defeat us. Some­times they are more subtle, lurking in this form or that to catch us unawares, hoping our guard is down.

Over against such the word of our command­ing officer is, “Don’t entangle yourself in their affairs”. We read in verse 4 of II Timothy 2, “No man that warreth entangleth himself in the affairs of this life!” The idea is, don’t involve yourself so as to be entangled. Don’t involve yourself with embracing false doctrine. Reject it! Don’t involve yourself with worldly pleasures. If you go by a movie theater, keep on driving. If you are at a party where the liquor comes out or drugs, to use a phrase, “Just say no” and leave. If your boyfriend or girlfriend tempts you to go too far and engage in sex, resist that. If you don’t, you will become entangled, all tangled up in the devil’s spider web of destruction. Do not let that happen! Fight!

Will that be easy? No, that will be hard. There will be, as the passage tells us, hardships. A soldier’s life is full of them. So also the life of the good soldier of Jesus Christ. Paul knew them. He refers to that in verse 9. The word translated “suffer trouble” in that verse is the same word translated “endure hardness” in verse 3. He suffered the rejection of men. He stood up for the truth with the sword of the Word, and he was hated. He suffered bodily harm. He was whipped, beaten, stoned. Twice he was impris­oned in Rome. He wrote II Timothy during that second and last time. And yes, he finally was killed, suffering death itself on the battle field. As good soldiers of Jesus Christ, hardships you will have! I think that one of the greatest hardships a young person faces is rejection by other young people. Oh, so much you want to be liked by your peers. You want to be in the in-crowd, not out. Now, being “in” is all right, but not if it means doing things that you ought not be doing, going places you ought not be going, saying things you ought not be saying. Then be “out”! Endure this. Stand up under it. In so doing you will be “out” with your peers, but you will be “in” with Christ. And that is all that matters.

Be pleasing to Him. That must be true of you. For Christ has chosen you to be a good sol­dier. The passage in verse 4 speaks of that. We read, “that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.” Think of it! Christ has cho­sen you. He has enlisted you. You have not enlisted in His army. He has enlisted you. What grace! What honor has been bestowed on you, that you should be a soldier of Jesus Christ! Then “please Him”.

III.  The Encouragement That That Soldier Has

What encouragement do you have? To get at that I want to go back to that last characteristic of a good soldier. I left it for this point. That characteristic was trust. A soldier trusts. He trusts his fellow-soldiers. He trusts his superior officers. He trusts his country and the weapons given to him. In them he finds his encourage­ment.

Trust your weapon – the Word of God. It will not fail you! Trust your country. Heaven will not fail you! Trust your fellow soldiers. And fellow soldiers, do not violate that trust. Trust your superior officers, your parents, your pastors, your church. And parents and pastors and all who are in authority, do not violate that trust. But should father, mother, pastor, friend, or anyone else do so, there is one who will not— Jesus Christ! He will not fail His good soldiers who stand in the front line of the battle. Never!

How do I know that? I know that first of all by personal experience. Christ has never failed me. But I know that secondly, because His Word tells me so. It tells me in the first place that he fought the battle for me. He did that on the cross. It tells me secondly that though the battle rages on, the outcome is certain. Victory! That’s the outcome. No earthly soldier knows that before he goes to battle. But the good soldier of Jesus Christ does. And it tells me in the third place, that for the good soldier of Jesus Christ there is the welcome home ceremony, the victory parade. And the crown of victory that shall be given us at that day. Paul refers to that crown in verse 5 and again at the end of this epistle.

What say you to that? There is a saying used by the Army, “Be all that you can be in the Army”. Be all that you can be, all that Christ wants you to be, in the army of Jesus Christ! You have your marching orders. Now go forth! Go forth with a song in your heart and on your lips. “Go forth”, as we sing from Psalter #407, “In His service and strong in His might to conquer all evil and stand for the right. For this is His word: His saints shall not fail, but over the earth their power shall prevail; all kingdoms and nations shall yield to their sway. To God give the glory and praise Him for aye.”

There is certainly no question about it that adversity is a very common thing. It is so very common. In the world in which we live it is common. That that is true you cannot help but notice if you page through a newspaper or a news magazine for example. Almost on every page of every single newspaper or news magazine the topic that stares you in the face is adversity. This adversity is mentioned or that adversity is mentioned. This trouble is mentioned or that trouble is mentioned. This strife is mentioned or that strife is mentioned. It seems as though that is all that you read about, so common is adversity in the world in which we live.

However, not only is it true that adversity, that trouble, is a common thing in the world round about us, but it is also true that adversity is a common thing in the Church of Jesus Christ and in the life of every single child of God. It is. In your life and in my life adversity is so very common. Just think for example of the very common form of adversity known as persecution. Persecution is indeed a very severe form of adversity. When God’s people have their homes and their families taken away from them because of their firm stand upon the truths of Scripture, that is persecution (adversity). When God’s people testify to the world round about them that they are Jesus’ sheep for whom He died, and when they testify to the world round about them that they love their Good Shepherd Who gave His life for them, and as a result of that love their lives are taken away, that is persecution (adversity). And I submit to you that that form of adversity, God’s people, the very Church of Jesus Christ, experience every day. I think sometimes that we have a tendency to forget that fact. Because we live in a society in which we are not persecuted, we tend to forget the fact that there are others of God’s people out there in the world somewhere who are persecuted. We ought not do that. The persecution of the Church of Jesus Christ, yes, even in our day and age, is more common than we think.

And there are more examples of adversity that are so common in the life of the child of God. Just think of sickness and disease. Just think of the humble pain and agony that a child of God experiences when his or her body is utterly filled with disease. The humble pain and agony! That, 1 say, is adversity. And as if that is not enough, inseparably connected with that form of adversity is the mental pain and agony that always accompanies it. When a child of God experiences the adversity of physical pain and agony, he also experiences mental pain and agony. He becomes anxious. He becomes filled with worry. And sometimes he becomes so filled with anxiety and worry that he falls very deeply into despair. And not only is that true with respect to that child of God who suffers from physical pain and anguish, but that is also true of the loved ones of that child of God who must watch that child of God suffer. That is true of the loved ones of that child of God who must sit at that child of God’s bedside day after day after day, and see that child of God slowly but surely go to the grave. They too become filled with anxiety and worry. They too very often begin to despair. And in the depths of despair they ask themselves: why? Why has God done this to my son or my daughter, my husband or my wife, my father or my mother? Why? Does He not know the grief that we experience? Does He not care? That is adversity. And that form of adversity is so very common. 1 dare to say that there is not a one of us, no, not one of us, who has not experienced that form of adversity at least in some measure in our lives.

Oh yes, adversity is common in the life of the child of God. And particularly is that true in the life of young children of God. And by “young” children of God 1 refer specifically to you, young people. Young people, in your lives adversity is common. It is, isn’t it? You too experience trouble and strife in many forms and in many ways. And we as parents do well to recognize that. Sometimes we as parents think of our young people as not having a care in the world. Sometimes we as parents think of our young people as though they have absolutely no troubles or problems. But they do. They certainly do. And we must not minimize them either.

The adversities that you as young people experience, and that we as parents must recognize that you experience are these. You have the calling given to you by God to live your lives unspotted from the world. You must live your lives holy before your God. However, in the midst of that calling there are all those temptations by the world. There are as Scripture has it the “lusts of the flesh and the lusts of the eyes, and the pride of life” that so often appeal to you. The world uses all of its sinful pleasures to try and cause you to go astray. I do not have to enumerate them.

That is not necessary. You know what they are. But the point is, when the world does that, when the world, so to speak, bombards you with all of its sinful pleasures, then you experience very really a struggle within yourselves. A very fierce struggle. And that very fierce struggle that you experience so commonly is adversity.

And to mention but a few more examples. there is the problem (adversity) that each of you young people have to face when it comes time for you to decide in what sphere of labor you must busy yourselves. You must ask yourselves the question: what is my God-ordained task in life? In what sphere of labor does my God want me to engage? That is a problem or adversity that you face. And in addition to that there is this fundamental adversity that faces each one of you young people, namely, the adversity (problem), the question of who must be your help meet in life. You must ask yourself the question: Whom does God want me to marry? Is it he? Is it she? How do 1 know? I think it is not unrealistic for me to say that some of you undoubtedly lie awake night after night with those very questions in your minds. If you do, you experience adversity.

A common thing is adversity. But the question is, and young people, this question is so very important: Is our thanksgiving in the midst of our adversities as common as the adversities themselves? Is it? Is it as common as the adversities themselves? The theme of this article is “Giving Thanks in Adversity”. Do we do that?

With respect to the world and the adversities that it experiences the answer to that question is clear. The answer to that question is a resounding, No! No, the world never give thanks in the midst of the adversities that it experiences. It never gives thanks. But on the contrary, the only thing that the world does is grumble and complain. Instead of giving thanks, the only thing that the world does is shake an angry fist at Almighty God.

But God’s people, the Church of Jesus Christ, in the midst of its adversities is different, isn’t it? Or is it? You and I in the midst of our adversities are different. Aren’t we? Or are we? We give thanks, don’t we? Or do we?Do we? Do we give thanks to God when we suffer persecution for righteousness sake? Do we give thanks to God when we suffer pain and agony because of disease? Do we give thanks to God when we experience the anguish of seeing our loved ones suffer? And young people, do we give thanks to God when we experience the particular adversities that are so common in our lives? Do we?

I am afraid that if we ask ourselves that question the only answer that we can possibly give to that question is also. No. No, we do not give thanks to God in the midst of our adversities. No, our prayers of thanksgiving to God are not as common as the adversities that we experience. Instead of giving thanks to God in our adversities, we too so very often only grumble and complain.

But that should not be the case. We should not grumble and complain in the midst of our adversities, but rather, give thanks to God. And not only that, not only is it the case that we should give thanks to God in the midst of our infirmities, but it is also the case that that is our calling to do so. That is our calling. It is our calling before the face of God to give thanks in our adversities. That is 1 Thessalonians 5:18, is it not? In 1 Thessalonians 5:18 we read these words. “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” Notice that, “In everything give thanks.” In everything. Not just when things, so to speak, go right in our lives. Not just when we do not experience any particular problem or adversity in our lives. Oh no! I Thessalonians 5:18 does not say that. But rather it says, “In everything give thanks.” And that means. Young people, that it is our calling to give thanks to God even when we experience adversity.

But you say: yes, but that is so hard. That is so difficult. It is so very difficult for me to give thanks when I experience adversity. Indeed it is. It is a difficult thing for us to express our thanksgiving unto God when we experience trouble on every side. But, nevertheless, difficult though that may be, it is still our calling.

And why is it our calling? The answer to that question is that it is our calling to give thanks even in adversity “for that is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” That is God’s will. It is God’s will to use all things, yes, even our adversities to work for our good. And because it is His will to do that, it is His will that we give thanks to Him for the good that He works through the adversities that we experience.

Do that then, young people. Give thanks to God. May it be true of you that your prayers of thanksgiving are as common as your adversities.

 

A few weeks ago, I had the honor of receiving a letter from the Beacon Lights staff, asking me to write an article for the Beacon Lights on the subject of my “new pastoral work”. Usually, when one is asked to write an article or give a speech on some subject, he naturally turns to his library. He scans the shelves of his library to find reference material that addresses itself to the subject on which he is supposed to write. Well, young people, I have no reference material in my library that addresses itself to this subject on which I have been asked to write. The only reference material that I have on this subject is in my heart. And what I have to say, therefore, in this article; you may be assured, comes exactly from my heart.

I am a Pastor. I am the Pastor of a small flock of Christ’s sheep in Isabel, South Dakota. This flock of Christ’s sheep consists of some twenty individuals to whom Christ sees fit to being His Word through me twice each Lord’s Day. I teach two Catechism classes consisting of a total of five children. And in addition to that, I lead two Bible Societies. A small flock isn’t it? But I want to emphasize that small though it may be; it is a flock of Christ’s sheep. The sheep that are gathered here are God’s covenant seed that have been called out of darkness into God’s marvelous light. And as they are that, they are sheep who are not one bit different from the sheep of Christ’s pasture in our other congregations. They are sheep who need and who desire by God’s grace to be fed. They are sheep who need and who desire by God’s grace to be fed. They are sheep who long to hear the pure preaching of the Word. It is their testimony that that longing for the Word is necessary for them. And, too, as true sheep of Jesus Christ, it is their confession that that is important for them, for without the pure preaching of the Word, they will certainly go astray. They are Christ’s sheep just like any other of Christ’s sheep who need to be led in the midst of the darkness of this world. They need to be defended over against the many temptations of this world and over against the lie of the devil. And they are Christ’s sheep just like any other of Christ’s sheep who need to be comforted; comforted when they on beds of sickness and pain; comforted when they suffer the loss of loved ones; and comforted when they are troubled by their sins. Of this flock of Christ’s sheep, I am a Pastor.

I am a Pastor. That too I want to emphasize. I am a shepherd. I am an undershepherd of the Shepherd of the sheep: our Lord Jesus Christ. I have been called by Christ to be His undershepherd. Christ has placed the desire in my heart to serve Him in the midst of His flock. And having placed this desire in my heart, Christ has called me to serve Him in this particular flock here in Isabel. From Christ, I have been given the command, “Feed My sheep.” Young people, that is Christ’s command to me. As really as Christ spoke those words to Peter in John 21, so really has Christ spoken those words to me. As a Pastor, Christ has come to me and He has said to me, “Feed My Sheep; Feed them. Nourish them with My Word. Remind them of my love for them. Bring them to the foot of My Cross in order that they might behold the wondrous salvation that I have merited for them. Instruct them concerning the way in which they must walk in this life. Defend them overagainst the wolves who seek to destroy them. And comfort them. Do not forget to comfort them.” That is Christ’s command to me as His undershepherd.

And as that is Christ’s command, that is also my task and work as a Pastor. Do you want to know what my “new pastoral work” is? That is my work. I have been given the awesome task of feeding Christ’s sheep. That I must do on the pulpit each Sunday, I must preach the Word. The Word I must preach-not just part of the Word, not just bits and pieces of the Word, but the whole Word of God. And too, it is my task to preach that Word to God’s people in all its purity. In no way am I obedient to Christ’s command, in no way do I perform my work properly, if I try to feed Christ’s sheep with less than the Word of God in all its purity. Even as it is true that sheep will die if they are fed watered-down milk, so also is it true that Christ’s sheep here in Isabel will die if they are not fed the pure milk of the Word. It is my task and work to bring that Word to Christ’s sheep in the Catechism and in Society. It is my task to bring that Word when Christ’s sheep are sorrowing. Always and in all my work as a Pastor, it is my task to be obedient to Christ’s command to “Feed My sheep.”

When I reflect on that, when I search my heart, then I can only say, “But I am weak.” I am weak. So weak I am. I have been given the task to feed Christ’s sheep, but with Paul I also say, “Who is sufficient for these things?” I am not, I am not sufficient at all. I am a sinner. I am but dust and ashes. I am not qualified of myself to feed Christ’s sheep.

Every Sunday morning when I must face the awesome task of preaching the Word, I am vividly reminded of that fact. Always the same questions arise in my mind: “but how? How can I do that? I am not qualified of myself to do that. I am so very weak. I am not worthy or able to feed Christ’s sheep.”

And yet, young people, the wonder of it all is that Christ’s sheep are fed. As a Pastor, Christ comes to me and He says to me, “Yes, you are weak. Yes, you are not qualified of yourself to feed My sheep. But do not fear. I will qualify you. I will sustain you. And I will do that by My grace. My grace is sufficient for thee.” Oh, how true that is. I am not qualified to feed Christ’s sheep of myself. But Christ qualifies me. He gives me strength. He enables me to carry on in the work which He has given unto me.

What is my response to all of that? You may be sure, young people, that it is one of thanksgiving. As a Pastor I cry out to my Savior, “Thanks! Thanks for Thy sheep. Thanks for the task which thou hast been pleased to give to me. And thanks for thy grace which enables me to carry on in my new pastoral work.”

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